CALGARY — Jakob Pelletier couldn’t have felt much better about himself heading into his pre-season debut Monday.
Proud to announce he’s added eight pounds to his diminutive frame over the summer, the 22-year-old winger also earned the right to swap his no. 49 to a more traditional number, befitting an NHL regular.
Asked why he chose 22, the effervescent sophomore delivered a beauty aimed ever-so-playfully at Darryl Sutter’s wildly inappropriate, “what number is he?” quip that punctuated the youngster’s NHL debut.
“I think it’s easier for the coaches to know the No. 22 to the No. 49,” deadpanned the affable Quebec native before breaking into a fantastic grin.
“It’s a joke. I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding.”
He laughed off the fact it was previously worn by GM Craig Conroy, insisting it had more to do with watching his first childhood idol, Alexander Radulov, as a youngster in Quebec City where the Russian star led the Remparts to a Memorial Cup crown when Pelletier was five.
Upon sharing the exciting news with his grandmother this summer, she told him, “this is going to be your year.”
Fast forward nine hours and there was Pelletier, writhing on the Saddledome ice in pain after taking an awkward hit into the boards.
Attempting to curl back as he entered the Kraken zone, he was steamrolled by Marian Studenic who was given a boarding major and game misconduct for the hit.
Pelletier was eventually able to skate off slowly with the trainer, and went straight to the dressing room favouring his upper body.
Seconds before the end of a first period in which he already had an assist, his evening was over.
Who knows how much longer he may be out.
“It’s an upper body injury and doctors will do some stuff with him tomorrow and we’ll have a better idea of what it is,” said coach Ryan Huska, opting not to shed any light on what looked like a shoulder injury.
“At this time of the year you don’t want to lose anybody. We’ll hope he’s going to be back with us sooner than later, but will evaluate tomorrow.”
It threatens to be a significant setback for the Flames 2019 first rounder who was a lock to be in the opening lineup following a rookie season in which he scored three goals, added seven points and endless energy in 24 games.
Huska has spoken often about the important role young players like Pelletier will have to play this year, adding life to the room, the bench and on the ice.
An injury won’t help.
“Obviously that’s a very unfortunate circumstance,” said starter Dustin Wolf, who had his own setback of sorts with a 5-3 loss.
“He’s not only an incredible player but he lightens up the room — you never want to see a guy go down like that.”
Added linemate Walker Duehr, “You never want to see that, especially in an exhibition game when he’s really trying to showcase himself. I thought we got off to a pretty strong start. I hope he’s doing well.”
Hours before the injury, Pelletier said his focus is simple:
“My main goal is to start the year in the NHL,” he said.
“But for me I think it’s just to, every day, be the best player and be the guy that works the hardest.
“It’s bringing positivity, playing with pace, trying to create offensive chances, and just to show, whether I’m on the first or fourth line, be a role guy and show that I belong in the NHL and to leave no doubt for the coaches.”
Huska raves about Pelletier’s ability to play on lines one through four.
On Monday he opened alongside Clark Bishop and Duehr, who opened the scoring with a slick backhand. Pelletier started the play in his own zone by taking a hit to make the pass, springing the other two for the eventual finish.
“He has a good skill set, he’s a very cerebral player, he understands the game really well, so you can trust him with your top players and his ability to make plays,” said Huska of the 5-foot-9, 160-pound lefty.
“We have talked a lot about the guys who have to push, and he’s one of them. He’s in the category of someone that needs to bring that every day or someone else will be waiting to do it. So that’s how we’re going to create some competition. He’s a very good player who can play anywhere in our lineup, I feel like. Now, it’s up to him to show that throughout the exhibition season.”
Unfortunately, he may not get that chance.
Flames scorers included Mikael Backlund, Andrew Mangiapane and Duehr, while Wolf made 23 saves on 28 shots.
In Seattle, for the other half of the split squad game, the Flames won 3-2 in a shootout. Flames goals came from Ilya Solovyov and Dryden Hunt, with Dan Vladar stopping 34 off 36 shots. Shootout scorers included Yegor Sharangovich and Dillon Dube.
THE LINES (in Calgary)
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman
Pelletier – Bishop – Duehr
Pettersen – Schwindt – Klapka
Stromgren – Jones – Lipinski
Zadorov – Weegar
Hanifin – DeSimone
Morin – Kuznetsov